Sunday, January 31, 2010

Match Report: Liverpool 2 - 0 Bolton

A first-half strike from Dirk Kuyt and an own goal from Kevin Davies saw Liverpool maintain their top four push with a 2-0 victory over Bolton on Saturday afternoon.

The Dutchman's close range finish eight minutes before the interval put the Reds in the driving seat before Emiliano Insua's deflected shot sealed the points to stretch our unbeaten run in the Barclays Premier League to six matches.

For Wanderers boss Owen Coyle, the traditional 3pm clash saw him take his place in the visiting dugout for the second time this season, having previously led Burnley in their 4-0 defeat in in September.

The home faithful would have arrived at the ground hoping for a similar result against the Scot, as the Reds went up against a side that had kept just one clean sheet in their previous 21 matches on the road. The inclusion of Alberto Aquilani and David Ngog in the Liverpool starting Xi suggested the hosts were geared up to attack too and there was a confidence in the air that the statistic would be stretched to 22.

As the game got underway there was a noticeable difference in the Reds' formation with skipper Steven Gerrard alternating the right wing position with its usual occupant, Kuyt.

However, it was at the other end where the first threat occurred with Tamir Cohen seizing on a mistake by Martin Skrtel, only to see Pepe Reina deny him a goalscoring opportunity by gathering well at his feet.

As expected, Benitez's side began to take charge of the possession but despite some nice touches from Gerrard and Aquilani in particular, Jussi Jaaskelainen had remained largely untested as we approached the midway point in the first-half.

Murmurs of frustration began to echo around the stadium and although Gerrard and Ngog threatened to get in behind the visitors' rearguard, attempts on goal continued to be elusive.

A delightful run down the left from Emiliano Insua threatened to change that, but Kuyt could not stretch enough to apply the finish to his exquisite cross.

Reina had been a virtual bystander up until this point but he could so easily have been picking the ball out of an empty net, just seconds later.

Chung-Yong Lee broke through the middle of the Liverpool defence and rounded the Reds' stopper, only to see his low shot from a tight angle brilliantly blocked by the legs of Sotirios Kyrgiakos.

It was a warning for Benitez's men and they responded in the perfect way, by taking the lead with their first clear-cut opportunity of the match on 37 minutes.

A raking ball from Albert Riera found the unmarked Insua on the far left of Bolton's penalty area. The Argentine had the time to deliver a chipped cross to the far post where Aquilani rose to knock it down to Kuyt, who made no mistake from six yards out.

It was the Dutchman's ninth goal of the season and Liverpool's 50th of the campaign in all competitions; proving to be the perfect lift for the home side as they went in a goal to the good at the interval.

However, as if stung by the blow of conceding after looking comfortable for long periods, it was the away side that made the livelier start to the second 45.

A series of long throws and set pieces were hurled into the heart of the Liverpool penalty area, with Kyrgiakos imperious against the threat of Kevin Davies in the air.

On the counter, the hosts were putting some nice moves together and after a couple of nearly moments, only Ngog will know how he didn't double the advantage on 53 minutes.

Riera was given the freedom of Anfield to race clear down the left flank. With teammates arriving at pace, he cut the ball into the path of Gerrard whose low shot was beaten into the Frenchman's path by Jaaskelainen. It seemed inevitable the net would bulge, but the no. 24 got it all wrong inside the six yard box and skewed wide will the goal gaping.

The pattern of player continued as the half progressed, but it was now the home side who were creating the opportunities. Ngog saw a shot from inside the area well blocked while Jamie Carragher could have chipped in with a rare goal when he side-footed into a huddle of Bolton bodies after a corner was cleared to the edge of the box.

By now a second goal seemed inevitable for the Reds and it duly arrived 20 minutes from time.

The visitors cleared a short corner only as far as Ngog, whose lay-off set-up Insua to crash a 20 yarder into the left-hand corner courtesy of a massive deflection off Kevin Davies.

The home side could have extended their winning margin in the dying embers of the game through substitutes Lucas Leiva and Maxi Rodriguez, but it wasn't to be on a day that saw us clock up a landmark 50th league win over Bolton.

Rafael Benitez: Liverpool Can manage Without Further Signings

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has alluded to the possibility that the club will be unable to add to the signing of Maxi Rodriguez during the current transfer window, but believes his squad can still fulfil their ambitions.

The mid-season market ceases trading on Monday, and Liverpool - despite being linked with a multitude of Europe's big names including Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, David Silva and Milan Jovanovic - are yet to seal a second deal this month.

"We have been working and we are still working trying to find players in different positions, but it's not easy to find a good player or a player at the level of our team," Benitez explained to the club's official website.

"We have to keep going until the end, and if we cannot [sign anyone else] we will have to manage."

The club's physios are currently nursing four first-team players back to full health. Dan Agger, Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun and Glen Johnson are all sidelined with respective groin, knee, rib, and knee ligament problems.

The former three are expected to return in February, while Johnson is pencilled in for a March recovery.

The Spainiard added: "We are quite happy with the squad and have players coming back from injuries.

"To find better players than our own and ones that are available in the market is not easy.

"If we need to do something, we have sold some players, so we can manage."

Reds Reject New Babel Bid understands Liverpool have rejected a new bid from Birmingham for Ryan Babel.

The Blues have been tracking the Reds winger since the opening of the January transfer window but saw a reported £9 million bid rebuffed by the Merseyside giants at the start of the month.

Liverpool chief Rafael Benitez claimed Babel still had an integral to play at Anfield, but the 23-year-old has made just one substitute appearance since City's offer.

Babel, who announced his displeasure at being left out of a recent Liverpool squad on Twitter before apologising personally to Benitez, was originally not keen on a move to St Andrews.

But the player's agent has since revealed the Dutch international had a change of heart, with the World Cup on the horizon, but it appears Alex McLeish's latest bid to lure the former Ajax star to the West Midlands has been shunned.

Rafa Benítez Wants To See Investment At Liverpool If He Is To Snub Juventus

Liverpool’s long-running search for investors to inject £100 million of capital and break the club’s financial paralysis must bear fruit before the end of the season if Rafael Benítez is to resist overtures from Juventus, the Spaniard admitted.
The Liverpool manager refused to be drawn on whether the Italian side, who has appointed Alberto Zaccheroni as caretaker until the end of the season, had made a formal offer for his services but revealed he is aware of Juventus’s “interest” and stated his “pride” at being linked with a “top club”.

Benítez retains the staunch support of the club’s board, and Liverpool formally reminded Juventus that he is under contract, warning they would pursue legal action if it transpired the Italian side had made an illegal approach.

Benítez insists he is “happy” on Merseyside and determined to “continue fighting” as Liverpool attempt to retain their Champions League status, but he acknowledged that fresh funding – boosting his transfer coffers and enabling work on the club’s planned new stadium — was an “important” factor in deciding his long-term future.

“It is important for everyone at the club and for all the fans to see these things happen,” he said. “Everyone wants to see the team and the club progress. I think we’re going in the right direction but we have to move forward. We know the key at the end is the stadium and the new investors.

“I think we have a new investor or maybe more [investors] coming this year, and the possibility of a new stadium would be a big boost for everyone here. All of these things are on the agenda. We have to trust and have the belief that they will happen.”

Christian Purslow, Liverpool’s managing director, has been tasked with selling a 25 per cent stake in the club for £100 million in a bid to provide the equity infusion which would bring to an end more than two years of financial stasis at Anfield.

Purslow is confident of presenting an offer to the club’s owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, in the coming weeks, though Benítez’s suggestion that it is now time for action to commence and talking to stop is understandable.

Rumours of imminent investment have swirled around Anfield almost since the day the two Americans took charge, and yet Benítez has continually found his ambitions hampered by an ongoing need to service the £237 million debt laden on to the club by its absentee owners.

He has signed just one player, Maxi Rodriguez, on a free transfer this month, despite selling Andrea Dossena and Andriy Voronin for a combined £6.2 million. Barring a major change of tack at Anfield in the next 72 hours, Benítez will have been condemned to spending only what he raises for four consecutive transfer windows.

The Spaniard is already planning for a fifth, attempting to land the likes of Marouane Chamakh and Milan Jovanovic on free transfers, a policy he insists is not affected by the doubts over his own future. “Players know I have four years of contract and if they want to come they will come because it is Liverpool, a club with fantastic fans and a fantastic team,” he said.

While his departure is not imminent, that Juventus remain confident of luring Benítez to Turin in the summer – he heads a four-man shortlist including Fiorentina’s Cesare Prandelli, Italy coach Marcello Lippi and the Cagliari manager Massimiliano Allegri – suggests a sea-change in the nature of the debate over his future.

For much of a dispiriting campaign, Liverpool’s fan-base has been split over whether Benítez is the manager to satisfy the club’s ambitions. Given Anfield’s parlous financial state, though, Benítez would not be alone in asking whether Liverpool, without the cash infusion provided by investment, is the club to fulfil a manager’s desire to succeed.

Juventus Lawyers On Case As Italian Giants Keen To Lure Rafael Benítez

Juventus have instructed their lawyers to examine Rafael Benítez's Liverpool contract as the Italian side attempt to put together a package to tempt him to Serie-A in the summer.

Ciro Ferrara, the manager at the Olympic Stadium, is likely to be dismissed today after a run of eight defeats in 11 games prior to last night's Coppa Italia tie against Inter Milan. Claudio Gentile, the former Juventus player and Italian Under-21 coach, is expected to replace him until the end of the campaign.

The club's directors, though, are believed to have identified the Liverpool manager as their favoured replacement on a long-term basis after interest in Guus Hiddink, the former Chelsea coach, cooled because of the Dutchman's wage demands and his inability to speak Italian.

Juventus's power brokers met the club's lawyers on Tuesday to assess the likelihood of Benítez being convinced to end his six-year reign at Anfield in the summer. The club had considered attempting to lure Benítez to Italy this month but believed the Spaniard would not contemplate leaving Liverpool in the middle of the season.

The Spaniard earns £4.8 million a year before tax under the terms of his Liverpool contract, agreed until 2014 after protracted negotiations just 10 months ago. It is a salary Juventus would not be able to match, though more relaxed tax laws would allow the Italian side to offer Benítez a net salary of £2.5 million a year.

The prospect of Benítez demanding his substantial coaching staff accompany him to Italy presents a further obstacle, though Juventus have been informed the Spaniard would only wish to bring three or four key lieutenants with him.

Juventus believe Benítez would be willing to appoint an Italian assistant manager, an important nod to the club's tradition and identified as a key negotiating point when Jose Mourinho joined Inter in 2008.

Indeed, so determined are the Italian side to land Benítez that they are prepared to bid for Dirk Kuyt, the Dutch international forward, should the Spaniard want him to move as well. He would join Mohamed Sissoko, the former Liverpool player, in Turin.

Benítez, who signed Sissoko for both Valencia and Liverpool, had identified him as his favoured replacement for Javier Mascherano, when the Argentinian was close to leaving for Barcelona last summer.

Confidence Will Help Liverpool FC Regain Attacking Edge

Rafael Benitez has spent so much time on the defensive lately that perhaps it’s no surprise his team seem intent on following suit.

Those unfortunate enough to be present at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday night will no doubt be nodding in agreement after a turgid encounter in which Liverpool’s attacking shortcomings were at their most painfully evident.

While a fourth clean sheet in five Premier League games extended his team’s unbeaten top-flight run, even Benitez was forced to lament the lack of forward threat from his players.

Small wonder. With Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard both struck by ongoing fitness concerns, Liverpool have struggled to find their way to goal since September.

The statistics say it all. Having netted 24 times in the opening nine games of the season, their subsequent 25 fixtures have seen them score just 25 goals.

Liverpool have not scored more than twice since the 6-1 thrashing of Hull City in September, and with Fulham the only team to score more than two times against Benitez’s side since then, the Anfield outfit have not exactly been an attractive prospect this season.

It’s a far cry from their thrilling, goal-laden run-in to last season in which they scored 43 times in their last 14 games.

But Benitez believes a sprinkling confidence and return to form and fitness of a number of players could see Liverpool replicate that expansive form.

“We didn’t change the tactics last season,” says the Spaniard. “It was just that the team was doing well, we had confidence and sometimes you create chances and score.

“I think we can do the same as last season it if we fix two or three things. You talk about Gerrard, but he was 10 days without training. He can available, but he is not ready. After you have to improve your match fitness.

“It is the same situation for Riera and Maxi has just arrived. You can see that he knows what to do with the ball. We are unbeaten for five games in a row and have some clean sheets we are moving in the right direction.”

Of the Wolves game, Benitez adds: “If you analyse the team the other day, we know that we were good in defence but we were not good enough in attack. If you analyse the team you will understand why.

“The players who were playing in attack, some of them were coming back from injury, it was Maxi’s first game and we had some players on the bench and only Ryan Babel could be a different kind of player.

“We needed to do something more in attack but the players we had on the pitch were the right ones for this game. If Gerrard is fitter then I am sure he would play better and this will make a massive difference for us in attack.”

Despite the travails going forward, Liverpool have engendered a stronger team spirit in recent weeks.

Benitez accepts that perhaps the team has raised its game in the absence of Gerrard and Torres, but has urged his players not to lower that work-rate with the skipper back in action.

“There has been a change in atmosphere, the players are sticking together,” he says. “I think that sometimes it is true that when you lose two key players, who can make a difference, players realise that they have to work harder because that is the only way.

“But if you say to me what do I prefer? I say I prefer them working as hard as they can but with the key players on the pitch.”

Remarkable Pepe Reina Is The Real Deal For Liverpool FC

Another weekend, another milestone – Pepe Reina’s enduring consistency will be recognised this afternoon when he makes his 100th consecutive Premier League start for Liverpool.

It is, of course, a feat achieved before in the club’s illustrious history – 15 others have done it since 1892, the most recent being David James – but, in an age when reliable keepers are needed like never before, it demonstrates the level at which Reina has been operating.

And this season, it’s safe to say he has never been better. During a campaign that has tested the patience of even the most understanding soul, Reina’s outstanding performances have ensured he – quite rightly – has been exempt from any criticism.

Yet that will come as no solace to this fiercely competitive individual. As well as he has been playing, to suggest Reina has taken any satisfaction from a string of top drawer displays is nonsense.

When Steven Gerrard revealed after Tuesday night’s draw at Wolves that “players were hurting in the dressing room” apart from talking about himself and Jamie Carragher, his phrase could easily have been coined with Reina and Fernando Torres in mind.

Such an attitude has helped him become a hugely popular figure on the terraces and a hugely influential presence in the dressing room; he, like Torres, might hail from Madrid but, in the same way as his compatriot, Reina has immersed himself in Liverpool’s ethos. He understands the way supporters are thinking.

That’s why it’s never a surprise after every big win to see a picture of him celebrating; it’s why Reina will charge 80 yards from his goal to join in celebration huddles or, as was the case on Boxing Day against Wolves, he will hurtle the length of the pitch if he feels Liverpool have been wronged.

He is, quite simply, the complete package – if he wasn’t, Rafa Benitez, a man not known for handing out lavish praise at the drop of a hat, would not have said what he did recently.

“Goalkeepers will make mistakes at some point – that is clear,” Benitez pointed out. “But when we talk about the value of Pepe here, you really have to think only about Ray Clemence.

“He was one of the best keepers in this country for years and years and you see that if you analyse his figures. But then you look at Pepe.

“Three Golden Gloves awards in three years, fantastic records, doing well with a very good mentality.

“In a top side you have to be a top keeper and have great character. He is always pushing his team-mates and he is a leader on the pitch too.”

With all that in mind, then, it is no wonder talks are on-going about signing a new long-term deal; when you have such a valuable commodity, the only sensible thing to do is protect it and Reina deserves any rewards that will come his way.

This has been a hugely exasperating transfer window; true, not much business has been done elsewhere but both Manchester City and Tottenham, Liverpool’s main rivals for a Champions League spot, are trying to spend.

To preserve the club’s place in the top four, you might have thought that, with a striker needed, Liverpool would have given Benitez some fiscal help – why, for instance, could a deal not have been struck with Bordeaux for Marouane Chamakh or with Standard Liege for Milan Jovanovic?

Both men are poised to become free agents and both want to come to Liverpool, so why no deal? After all, a Champions League place is up for grabs now, not in the summer.

Obviously, that is a completely different argument but if Benitez can’t recruit from outside, some comfort would be taken if he could do the deal he wants most of all.

Gerrard and Torres were both tied down on long-term contracts in the summer, likewise Daniel Agger, Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun.

Clearly Reina should be a part of Liverpool’s future as he is one of the best in the world – sooner rather than later, his must be the one signing the club has to make.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Match Preview: Liverpool vs. Bolton Wanderers

Defenders Fabio Aurelio and Philipp Degen will both miss the Barclays Premier League clash at home to Bolton.

Aurelio has missed the last two matches with a minor knock while Degen (calf) did not play in the midweek goalless draw with Wolves.

However, centre-back Daniel Agger returns to the squad after regaining fitness while captain Steven Gerrard has reported no after-effects from Tuesday night when he made his comeback after a hamstring problem.

A goalless draw against Wolves in midweek meant they fell three points behind fourth-placed Tottenham but Benitez agreed with captain Gerrard after the Wolves game when he said the side is heading in the right direction.

"All I can do is prepare my team properly, to analyse things and try to find solutions to the problems we have,'' said the Liverpool boss.

"Now we are not losing games and doing a little bit better we have to try to do the same.

"The players know we are improving. Like Stevie said before, maybe we have turned the corner.''

Bolton manager Owen Coyle could be tempted to name an unchanged side.

On-loan winger Vladimir Weiss may have to settle for a place on the bench while another new recruit Stuart Holden has a slight thigh strain.

Mark Davies remains absent with an ankle injury as Bolton look to build on the win against Burnley.

Since Coyle switched clubs, Bolton has chalked up successive victories against his former side Burnley and Sheffield United after two defeats by Arsenal.

He believes his team will face Liverpool, who had to settle for a point against Wolves, with confidence especially after two clean sheets.

Coyle said: "We need to repeat our performances in the last two games. It is match to look forward to.

"My team will be going toe to toe with some of the best players in world football but have a chance to show they can play a bit as well.

"I have been delighted with the quality and application of the players. What we have to do is add to it.

"You do not come in with a magic wand. You come in with a recipe for hard work. There are areas we can work on to make us better as a group.

"We have managed to move out of the bottom three but only just. We are not kidding ourselves.

"We are not getting carried away. The hard work is ahead of us. It is a challenge we are up for.''

Daniel Agger Warns Liverpool's Rivals: We'll Battle For Top Four Finish

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger thinks that the Reds' difficult season might now be about to turn for the better.

Following a 2-0 win over Tottenham last midweek, Liverpool stumbled again on Tuesday night, drawing 0-0 at Wolves.

However, Danish defender Agger believes Rafa Benitez's side can find the form that is necessary from now until the end of the season so long as they concentrate on one game at a time.

"It's a really tough challenge this year," the 25-year-old told LFC Weekly.

"There are more teams competing than normally. We have a lot of work to do if we want to finish in the top four. But that's our aim.

"I think things are starting to turn for us. We have to keep winning because there is a lot more work to do.

"There is no point looking too far ahead, all we have to do is concentrate on the next game."

Agger acknowledges that the Reds have been poor at times this season but is struggling to pinpoint exactly why.

"If I had the answers to why we haven't been as successful as last season it would be easy," he mused.

"Injuries haven't helped. But there are a lot of good players in this squad. If someone is out we should be able to cope.

"We have conceded more goals, but you can't just say 'the defence has played badly'. It's not that simple. In other years when we've done well it wasn't just the defence keeping clean sheets, it was the whole team.

"Also, if you look at previous years nobody ever mentioned zonal marking because we were winning. It is not a reason for us not winning.

"We haven't been good enough and we all know that. I don't think any of us here will ever hide from that or say it isn't true.

"What we are doing is giving our best to improve our position. We want to get back on the right track as soon as possible."

Greek Sotirios Kyrgiakos Has Big Boots To Fill

Boots do not come any bigger to fill: if Alberto Aquilani accepted mission impossible last summer, how must Sotirios Kyrgiakos have felt upon touching down at Anfield?

As the man bought to replace Xabi Alonso, a huge crowd favourite and Liverpool's play-maker supreme, Aquilani was always destined to be subjected to a succession of unfavourable and unhelpful comparisons with his predecessor.

When a player has enjoyed the kind of popularity that Alonso did on Merseyside, and been able to exert such an influence on the team, no matter what Aquilani does in a red shirt, he will be unable to stop certain sections of supporters hankering for the past.

Aquilani, however, was not in a unique position at the start of this campaign.

Kyrgiakos, after all, was drafted in to assume the role vacated by Sami Hyppia, a defender who had been a giant for Liverpool over 10 trophy-laden years, giving them phenomenal service.

So if Alonso’s departure to Real Madrid was mourned when results started to go askew in the autumn, the same could also be said of Hyppia – particularly when Liverpool found it impossible during that ruinous spell to keep a clean sheet.

Having been recruited for a nominal transfer fee, Kyrgiakos was, rather unfairly, immediately deemed not good enough to play for Liverpool, with cynics wondering what someone who had spent their career predominantly in Greece could contribute.

Happily, though, Kyrgiakos has shown during the course of the past month why Rafa Benitez felt he should come on board and play in the games that might have been reserved for the Big Finn, who is now plying his trade with Bayer Leverkusen.

Outstanding in the games against Stoke City, Tottenham Hotspur and, most recently, Tuesday night’s draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers, the rugged Kyrgiakos is a no-nonsense defender, someone who simply loves to head and tackle.

Those qualities will, more than likely, serve him well tomorrow, when Bolton Wanderers – a side who have traditionally employed primitive tactics – arrive at Anfield, looking to make life difficult for the Reds.

Hyppia, of course, excelled in such physical battles but while it would be wrong to try and compare the two as players, Kyrgiakos is doing his best to show he, too, can be relied upon to shine when the going is tough – and his manager is delighted.

“Everyone here knows that he is a good professional, a really good lad and his team-mates can see that he is someone who will do anything for them,” said Benitez, who signed Kyrgiakos from AEK Athens on a two-year deal in August.

“Even when he doesn’t play, you know he will work very hard. Soto knew when he came here that he was only going to play specific games but he wanted to improve and when he has come in, he has done the job that we have needed him to do.”

Kyrgiakos might be new to the Premier League but, with 55 caps for his country and being able to number Glasgow Rangers and Eintracht Frankfurt among his former employers, he is clearly streetwise and knows how to defend.

“He is good in the air and he is tough,” Benitez continued. “You have to remember Sami was amazing for us. At the end, he was not playing too many games but he was just as important because of his personality and the role he had within the squad.

“On the pitch, he wasn’t getting too much time because of Martin (Skrtel), Daniel (Agger) and Carra. When he left and we replaced him with Soto, he knew exactly what kind of situation he was coming in to. He’s doing really well.

“Sami was terrific on the ball, he could use both feet and pass really well. He also knew the Premier League inside out. But Soto has his own qualities; he has had to adapt but he is learning now and he is doing the job we were looking for.”

The job Benitez will be looking for collectively tomorrow is an efficient, clinical performance – with a vast improvement in terms of creativity – to extend their recent unbeaten run in the Premier League to a sixth game.

“We will have to be strong and it will be very tough but we have to keep showing character,” said Benitez. “I know everyone was expecting us to get six points from these two fixtures but you just have to keep approaching one game at a time.

“It’s important to show that the team has strength. You can win games and lose games but do things very differently. OK, we only drew with Wolves but the team has shown they are very strong.”

That new found strength has led to Liverpool only conceding once in the last five league fixtures and the steady succession of clean sheets suggests that, perhaps, normal service is close to being resumed.

Steven Gerrard, for one, is certainly happy to seize upon that information and he is convinced that the fight and resolve they are showing to stay in the race for a Champions League spot will soon blossom into something more easy on the eye.

“We know we have got quality but everyone is rolling their sleeves up and battling well,” said Gerrard. “That gives me a great belief because you just know with that kind of attitude, a quality performance is just around the corner.

“Yes, of course we were disappointed not to take three points but we are really happy with how we are playing defensively.”

Keeper Happy To Extend Stanley Stay

Dean Bouzanis plays the last game of his current loan spell at Accrington Stanley tomorrow, but the goalkeeper says he is keen to stay for the rest of the season as he bids to earn a new deal at Liverpool.

Bouzanis joined Stanley from Liverpool in late November but the 19-year-old's loan is currently due to expire this weekend.

Stanley are making attempts to extend the deal until the end of the season - as they are with Blackburn Rovers defender Johnny Flynn and Leicester striker Billy Kee - with Ian Dunbavin their only other senior keeper at the moment.

Bouzanis is due to be out of contract at Anfield in the summer so he is more than happy to remain with Stanley until May and prove himself to Rafa Benitez.

"I'd like to stay until the end of the season and then my contract is up, but I'm hoping to re-sign with Liverpool," said Bouzanis, who got his wish by getting the jersey of fellow Australian keeper Mark Schwarzer after the Fulham game.

"I know Liverpool have someone at virtually every game watching me."

Bouzanis moved to Liverpool from Sydney at the age of 16 and admits he took time to settle.

"I really struggled with homesickness for the first couple of months and I didn't think I'd get through it," he said.

"I was just looking forward to going back home at Christmas.

"But my family comes over every three or four months, people over here helped me and I adapted to the English lifestyle."

David Prentice: Is Rafael Benitez A Good Manager Or A Lucky One?

Napoleon’s famous quote about preferring lucky generals to clever ones has been directed at Rafael Benitez before.

Some critics have used the ‘lucky boss’ argument to suggest that fortune has somehow favoured his haul of two La Liga titles, a UEFA Cup, an FA Cup and a Champions League.

They even claim that because his two Liverpool trophies came via the lottery of a penalty shoot-out, they are somehow devalued.

Nonsense, of course.

I prefer Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy: “A bit of luck and government are good, but you’d be a fool to trust in either of them.”

But there’s no doubt that this week Rafael Benitez has got lucky.

Just as Liverpool’s roller coaster season reached the dizzying height of a home win over Spurs, then took another sickening lurch downwards at Molineux, Italian newspaper La Stampa announced Juventus’ desire to lure the Spanish manager to Turin.

A little reminder of Rafa’s stock throughout Europe – Real Madrid have tried to lure him three times to the Bernabeu – doesn’t do his standing any harm amongst wavering Reds fans.

While American owners who know next to nothing about ‘soccer’ surely can’t fail to be impressed.

Don’t for a second think the link has somehow been stage-managed. La Stampa is owned by the Agnelli family, who also own Juve.

If Marca is the Spanish media mouthpiece for Real Madrid, La Stampa is the Italian equivalent.

So should Reds fans be concerned or offering to carry Senor Benitez’s bags to JLA?

There’s no doubt that something, somewhere has gone horribly wrong at Anfield this season – and it’s not just a question of swapping an injured Italian for a Spanish playmaker.

But it’s hardly irretrievable.

Liverpool are still well placed for a fourth place finish, still have the best striker in Europe to come back and still have England’s first choice right-back to return.

They also have a manager who wants to prolong his stay as Liverpool manager until this summer and far beyond.

Managerial stability is a crucial quality in a successful football club, and Liverpool are lucky that despite their boardroom upheaval, they have a manager who wants to sick around.

In football, you make your own luck – and Benitez has made plenty of his own.

Which is why clubs of Juventus’ stature want him.

Is Rafa Benitez a good manager or a lucky one?

I’d suggest he’s both – which makes Liverpool lucky to have him.

Benitez Happy With Liverpool Despite Link With Juventus

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said on Friday he was aware he had been linked with Serie A club Juventus but maintained he was happy to stay in England.

Benitez has been under increasing pressure at Liverpool with his team effectively out of contention for the Premier League title and also out of the Champions League, the FA Cup and the League Cup.

Juventus replaced coach Ciro Ferrara with Alberto Zaccheroni on Friday after five defeats in six matches.

At a news conference on Friday ahead of Saturday's Premier League game against Bolton Wanderers, Benitez said he did not plan to comment on speculation linking him with Juventus.

"I know that they (Juventus) were interested but that is part of the game now in football but I am just preparing for the Bolton game," he said. "I think when you are a manager and clubs ask then you have to be proud because they are a big club and a top side in Europe.

"But I am really pleased here and really happy and I want to do my job as best as I can."

Barnes Hopes Benitez Stays With Reds

John Barnes hopes Rafael Benitez rejects any overtures from Juventus and stays at Liverpool.

The former Reds winger does not blame Benitez for Liverpool's current struggles, saying that the club over-achieved last season with the players he had available.

Barnes also insists that it will not be a disaster for Liverpool if they do not qualify for next season's Champions League.

Barnes, speaking from Angola where he has been promoting England's bid for the 2018 World Cup, said: "It would be no surprise to me if Juventus are interested in Rafa Benitez because he's a great manager.

"I would like him to stay at Liverpool and I believe he can stay around.

"On the pitch things are not going particularly well and they still need better players, but they over-achieved last year and it was always going to be harder this year.

"They are still good players but they played to their maximum last year while Chelsea and Manchester United can be not at their best and still win.

"That's where Liverpool have fallen down this year."

Barnes admitted that Liverpool are up against it in the contest to finish in the top four but still believes they can achieve it - and rejects suggestions it would be a disaster if they do not.

He added: "It's going to be very tight and particularly with Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester City improving and getting stronger.

"If they don't qualify for the Champions League it makes it even harder financially next year and would be very disappointing but it would not be a disaster. What's happening in Haiti - that's a disaster."

Fernado Torres and Didier Drogba Ready To Play For Same Team

Liverpool FC striker Fernando Torres and Chelsea forward Didier Drogba will team up this weekend, with both men set to appear in Pepsi Max's new music video, as Pepsi begins its Fifa World Cup-related marketing.

Pepsi Max's charity song, 'Oh Africa', has been recorded by Akon, Keri Hilson and the Soweto Gospel Choir. Torres and Drogba, two of the biggest stars of English soccer's Premier League, will line up together in the accompanying music video.

Both men have been unarguable successes since their respective arrivals in English soccer. Torres marked his first season at Anfield, 2007/08, by becoming the first Liverpool player to pass the 20-Premier League goal mark in a season since Robbie Fowler. In December, Torres scored against Aston Villa to become the fastest player in Liverpool history to score a half century of league goals - also securing his side a vital three points in their race to finish in the top four and qualify for the Uefa Champions League.

Drogba, meanwhile, moved to Chelsea in 2004 for a fee of £24 million. He promptly helped fire the club to two Premier League titles under former coach Jose Mourinho, and his goals this season have been a vital part of the Stamford Bridge club's Premier League title challenge. Drogba has also won two FA Cups and two Carling Cups in his time at Chelsea.

The proceeds from the sale of Pepsi Max's single will be donated to a range of charities, including Akon's Konfidence Foundation, created to help underprivileged African children.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Juventus Lay Groundwork For Summer Rafael Benítez Move

Juventus are close to replacing the manager, Ciro Ferrara, with a short-term appointment as they attempt to pave the way for Rafael Benítez to join in the summer. The Turin club is expected to part company with Ferrara following tonight's Coppa Italia tie against Internazionale and had hoped to install the Liverpool manager as an immediate replacement.

Juventus officials now accept they will have a better chance of luring Benítez at the end of this season, when his position is to be reviewed by the Liverpool hierarchy and may decide he has had enough of the club's internal problems should promised new investment at Anfield fail to materialise.

Juventus are believed to have lined up their former defender Claudio Gentile as a stop-gap appointment until the end of the season, although the former Milan and Udinese coach Alberto Zaccheroni is also under consideration. Gentile has never managed at club level, and last coached in 2006 when in charge of the Italy Under-21 side, but his temporary arrival will enable Juventus to appoint a long-term successor in the summer.

A contract is believed to have been drawn up by Juventus for Benítez as a demonstration of their intent.

Masch Wants Fortress Anfield

Javier Mascherano is aware that Liverpool must make Anfield a fortress for the remainder of the season if they are to be successful in their quest for a top-four finish.

Rafa Benitez's Reds have struggled this campaign, but they have won their last three home Premier League matches and welcome Bolton to Merseyside on Saturday.

Liverpool are fighting with Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa for a place in next season's UEFA Champions League, and Mascherano is aware of the importance of fixtures at Anfield.

The Argentine believes a winning run at home, with Everton, Blackburn, Portsmouth and Sunderland to visit before April, will build self-belief in what promises to be a tense conclusion to the season.

"If we can be really strong at Anfield, it will be really good for our confidence," he told Liverpool's official website.

"I believe that confidence is always about the result. If you don't get the result, your confidence will go down and if you do it increases. One goes hand-in-hand with the other. We need to look at the positive things and try to be positive as we look forward.

"Whether you are winning or losing, it is no good thinking too much about it because you have to look forward and you have to live in the present. The present for us is Bolton and we have to win the game on Saturday."

Meanwhile, Mascherano, who has been linked with a summer move to Barcelona, views the Europa League as an opportunity to end his wait for a first trophy with Liverpool since his 2007 move from West Ham.

"The target for us is to finish in the top four and win the Europa League," he said.

"The Europa League is very important for us. I want to win something with Liverpool. We have the chance to do that in the Europa League, so we will try our best.

"Also, if you win the Europa League, you get to play in the Uefa Super Cup and that will be really good for the team."

The Reds begin their participation in the Europa League, having been dumped out of the UEFA Champions League group stages, on 18th February when they play the first leg of their last-32 tie against Unirea Urziceni.

Rafael Benítez Searching For Right-Back To Stand In For Glen Johnson

Rafael Benítez has indicated he is keen to draft in a right-back before the transfer window closes. The Liverpool manager wants to act as Glen Johnson is taking time to recover from medial ligament damage.

In the England international's absence, Jamie Carragher has been deployed in that role. However Benítez, whose side face Bolton on Saturday, would like Carragher to return to the centre of the defence.

The Spaniard knows time is against him to recruit with the transfer window about to close, but a fresh face remains a possibility.

"We have to be careful with what we do," Benítez told the Liverpool Echo. "There are not too many good players around who are available and we will think about it. We still have some time but we will not rush if we cannot find the right player for this position."

Benítez does have options to fill in for Johnson. Martin Kelly has returned to training after a long lay-off while Philipp Degen's calf problem is not thought to be serious. Stephen Darby is also staking a claim.

Carragher celebrates his 32nd birthday today and Benítez added: "We are really pleased to see him playing as well as he does when he is in the centre of defence or at full-back. We have needed him and he is doing well. As for Kelly, he has been injured but has improved."

Reds Teen Set For Dutch Return understands that Liverpool teenager Vincent Weijl is poised to return to Holland.

The Reds signed the attacking midfielder from AZ Alkmaar in July 2008 and he is a member of the Premier League side's reserves.

But Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is understood to be prepared to allow Weijl to leave on loan in order to build first-team experience.

An unnamed Dutch club has made approach for the 19-year-old and he could therefore be moving back to the Eredivisie.

When Weijl first arrived at Anfield expectation was high that he would develop into a major talent and Benitez will hope that a loan will assist his progress.

Liverpool Star Ready To Seal £11m Exit

Liverpool winger Ryan Babel is reportedly close to an Anfield exit, with Sunderland ready to renew their interest.

Dutchman Babel has struggled to make a major impact on Merseyside since moving in 2007, used sparingly by Benitez despite the Reds' lack of attacking options.

Linked with a move to Birmingham City earlier in the month, Babel has stood firm over a possible move. Rumoured to be holding out for a possible swap deal that would take him to either Arsenal or Spurs, a switch to London now appears unlikely and Sunderland a more likely destination.

A product of the famed Ajax academy, Babel made his debut for the Dutch giants in 2004. An international debut followed in 2005, and he now has 37 caps to his name.

The 23-year-old moved to Anfield for a fee of around £11.5 million, but has failed to live up to that price tag. The Reds have reportedly been trying to cash in, but are yet to take advantage of the interest in their versatile attack-minded player.

The possibility of a swap deal for Kenwyne Jones can't be ruled out, although both sides would deny that possibility after the weeks earlier actions. Bruce holds the ace however, and could push for a January deal as the window moves towards a close.

Liverpool Refute Reports Linking Yossi Benayoun With Dinamo Moscow

Liverpool have denied claims from Dinamo Moscow that a £7 million deal had been agreed to take Yossi Benayoun to Russia.

Moscow Sporting Director Konstantin Sarsania had apparently claimed that the 29-year-old midfielder was on his way to his club.

However, the Reds moved quickly to quell those rumours on Wednesday.

"The player is not for sale, it's as simple as that," a Reds spokesman told the club's official website.

Sarsania had clamied a deal was soon to be done.

"It is true that we have come to an agreement with the player's agent," Sarsania said, according to ESPN.

"In the next two days Liverpool will make their decision.

"When we completed the signing of Andriy Voronin, consent was given by Benitez.

Now the Liverpool coach is against losing Benayoun but the decision is not his.

It is for the club directors.

The transfer of Benayoun will happen if the price is acceptable.

If they want more than we expect, the board of directors will discuss the issue."

Tommy Smith: Liverpool FC Players Must Feel Like Fans Too

Hard as it is to take positives from the Wolves game, I guess there were one or two.

You can’t dispute it was really disappointing not to get the three points after the Spurs victory. But at least we did not lose, kept a clean sheet and saw Steven Gerrard coming back.

My old mate Jimmy Case, co-commenting on BBC Radio Merseyside, seemed to be doing his best to look on the bright side. But it did all sound a bit flat.

The difference for me between the Spurs and Wolves game may well have been the venue. At Anfield last week, with the Liverpool fans in magnificent form, we were right at it.

I know the Liverpool supporters who travel away are always in superb voice – and were again on Tuesday – but obviously there were far more Wolves fans at Molineux and I just wonder if one or two of our players didn’t sense – and therefore show – the same energy and motivation as was on view against Tottenham at Anfield.

The more that Liverpool players, especially those who come from foreign countries and aren’t steeped in Anfield history, become fans of the club the better. If they feel it the way the supporters do, then I’m certain it will help.

To be fair, a good few Reds stars obviously do. Pepe Reina and Torres are just two examples of overseas players who seem to have become adopted Kopites, as well as top Liverpool players. But the more like them in our squad, the better.

Liverpool fans are the best and always play an incredible part in driving the team on. But every Liverpool player must find the self motivation to drive themselves on too – in every single game.

If in their hearts the players are fans too, it will help – whether on pulsating nights at Anfield – or on freezing ones in Wolverhampton.

"Liverpool Fans Are Very Loyal, Very Kind And Very Passionate"

Former Liverpool midfielder Momo Sissoko has spoken of his pride at playing for Rafael Benitez at Anfield and stressed that the Spanish coach is worthy of any coaching job in Europe despite currently being under-fire on Merseyside.

Playing down rumours linking the Reds boss with his current side Juventus, the Malian international also hinted that the passion and loyalty of the Liverpool fans would be an important factor in the club’s future success.

“Rafa is a successful coach who can get any good job in Europe. He will be asked to take many jobs in Europe."

Sissoko was snapped up as a youngster by Benitez during the coach’s successful three year spell at Valencia before following the tactician to Liverpool in 2005 and anchoring the midfield alongside Steven Gerrard.

Reflecting on his time in the Premier League, the imposing enforcer continued:

“Rafa is a very good coach who had confidence in me. He made me proud to play for Liverpool. He made me work, work, work and made me improve.

“The Liverpool fans are very loyal, very kind and very passionate. Playing at Anfield was very special to me and I enjoyed playing there. Rafa has their support so that is important for him that the fans believe in him.”

Despite the widespread speculation in the Italian press linking Benitez with the top job at Juventus, Sissoko claimed to be none the wiser.

“I don’t know,” said Sissoko. “All I know is that my coach has confidence in me and I like it here.”

Benitez Confirms He Won’t See Tom Hicks’ US$500 Million Windfall

Liverpool FC manager Rafa Benitez has confirmed that he does not expect to receive a transfer boost from Tom Hicks' US$500 million windfall, secured by the American's sale of his Texas Rangers Major League Baseball franchise.

Hicks did not comment on whether any of the US$500 million he will receive for his MLB franchise will be redirected to Liverpool, but he has previously indicated that business dealings at the Rangers would not affect Liverpool. Benitez has now echoed that.

"I don't think so, it is another company," Benitez told the Belfast Telegraph when asked about the possibility of some of the US$500 million finding its way into Liverpool's transfer budget. "We are now run like a company and so that (Texas Rangers) is a different thing."

"The majority of clubs are now run like companies,” he added. "You have to think about football and business, both things together. This year we have done a fantastic job trying to balance the books and to do the right job for the company. In football, we had to take some risks and we have to improve now on the pitch. If people can see the club is healthy, it'll be easier to bring in investors. It has to be like this, because there is an economic crisis around the world. You can't be spending and spending when there's no money."

Hicks and his fellow American George Gillett took control of Liverpool in 2007. The two men were expected to revolutionise the club both on and off the pitch. This season, however, Benitez's team has struggled on the field of play, while the planned move from Anfield to a new stadium in Liverpool's Stanley Park appears as distant as ever, despite claims work could begin within a few months.

Liverpool FC Shirt Sponsor Switches Cash To Fifa World Cup After Losing Biggest Contract

Carlsberg, the outgoing shirt sponsor of English soccer club Liverpool FC, will launch a £30 million Fifa World Cup-themed marketing campaign that will be its biggest marketing investment of 2010.

The deal comes after Carlsberg lost its long-term place as Liverpool's shirt sponsor. The Anfield club, owned by American businessmen Tom Hicks and George Gillett, will be sponsored by bank Standard Chartered from the summer, having secured a significantly greater contract than the Anfield club had ever managed to get out of its previous sponsor. Liverpool will be paid more than £80 million by Standard Chartered over the next four years.

Carlsberg, who will remain a sponsor of Liverpool despite losing its place on the club's famous red shirt, has chosen to up its investment as the official beer of the England national team. Its new campaign will encourage fans to give a team talk to the England team - including the likes of Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard - via video or text message. It will also feature television advertising, and more than 2.5 million promotional Carlsberg packs.

The beer brand has a four-year contract as the official beer of both the England team and the FA Cup.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Black Cats Revive Interest In Babel

Sunderland are set to step up attempts to sign Ryan Babel. Steve Bruce is keen to seal the deal before the close of the transfer window for the Liverpool miss-fit.

Babel is desperate to leave Anfield in search of regular playing time and revive his bid for a place in the Dutch squad for this summer's World Cup.

The stumbling block for Bruce could be the player's reluctance to move to the North East. Having already turned down approaches from Birmingham and Galatasaray he is believed to prefer a move to Tottenham or Arsenal.

The 23-year old, who has represented his country at all levels, had expressed a desire to stay at Liverpool but, having been left out of the squad on a number of occasions, is keen to look elsewhere in search of first team action.

Having joined Liverpool for nearly £12million the Dutchman was seen as one of the hottest young prospects in football world. There is no doubting his potential however his form at Anfield has been mixed.

Bruce is well aware of what Babel could bring to his side who have stuttered of late. Rafa Benitez is keen to add an extra striker as cover for Fernando Torres and has signalled an interest in Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones.

Despite Bruce's refusal to involve the Trinidadian international in a swap deal, with only four days left until the transfer window closes, it could prove the only option if he wishes to sign Babel.

Plessis Set For Lazio Loan Switch

Liverpool midfielder Damien Plessis could be set for a loan switch to Serie A strugglers Lazio, UK understands.

The 21-year-old midfielder has been on the fringes of the Reds' first team for the past three seasons, making eight appearances in that time, and manager Rafael Benitez revealed yesterday that an Italian club had made an enquiry about signing Plessis on loan. UK understands that the Rome giants are heading the chase for the former Lyon-trainee, as they seek to arrest an alarming slide down the Serie A table.

Davide Ballardini's men currently lie 15th in Italy's top-flight, just two points above the relegation zone, and Italian football expert Susy Campanale says Plessis' physical presence would interest the Biancocelesti.

"Physical strength is prized in Serie A because it is so rare," said Campanale, who writes for the Football Italia magazine and website. "Inter have cornered the market in big, strong midfielders, so any of the top clubs would be intrigued by Plessis as a loan target. The Italian rumour mill suggests Lazio are the ones looking at him right now, and that sounds about right.

"Lazio are a club in serious trouble. It is not clear how much longer Ballardini can hang on, as they're sliding perilously close to the relegation zone."

Plessis was heralded as a potential star at Anfield after making an impressive debut against Arsenal in 2007, but the presence of the likes of Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Alberto Aquilani, plus the emergence of Lucas Leiva, has meant the Frenchman has found opportunities limited.

Benitez yesterday revealed that he would be prepared to sanction the release of Plessis on loan, telling reporters; "Plessis is a young player who isn't playing games. We were considering a loan but we're talking to the player and his agent.

"We had an Italian team asking about him and we'll see if we can find a solution that is best for him and for us."

Benitez is believed to be in the market for at least one more player before the transfer window closes next Monday, with Sunderland's £12 million-rated striker Kenwyne Jones his top target.

The Reds are also rumoured to have offered contracts to Bordeaux's Marouane Chamakh, and Milan Jovanovic of Standard Liege. Both are out of contract this summer.

Kuyt Oblivious To Juve Link

Dirk Kuyt knows nothing about a possible move to Juventus, his agent Robert Jansen has claimed.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has recently been tipped to take over at Juve with current boss Ciro Ferrera severely under pressure after a number of lacklustre displays.

The reports have sparked rumours over which players could join the Spaniard if he moves to Italy and Kuyt has seen his name linked with the Old Lady.

However the forward, who Benitez bought for £9million from Feyenoord in summer 2006, is happy at Anfield, according to Jansen.

"I know nothing of Juventus' interest," he told

"No-one has contacted us at the moment. He is now happy at Liverpool where he has two more years of his contract left."

With Benitez refusing to rule out a switch to Serie A after his side's 0-0 draw with Wolves on Tuesday, Jansen took a similar stance with Kuyt.

"The relationship with Benitez is excellent," he added.

"If Dirk could follow Rafa when he becomes the next coach of Juventus? I don't know. I cannot answer these questions now."

Terriers Line Up Reds Starlet

Huddersfield Town are set to strengthen their attacking options with the loan addition of Liverpool starlet Nathan Eccleston, understands.

The talented 19-year-old striker recently committed his future to the Reds by signing a long-term deal that keeps him at Anfield until 2013.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez, who is happy for the teenager to bolster his experience at League One level, is tipping Eccleston as one for the future.

The Manchester-born youngster has already made two Reds first-team appearances after featuring off the bench in Carling Cup action at Arsenal and in the Premier League against Fulham.

Eccleston will link up with Lee Clark's Terriers once the paperwork is finalised and could now be in line to make his debut for the West Yorkshire outfit against Yeovil at Huish Park on Saturday.

Dynamo Moscow Agree Terms With Liverpool Midfielder Yossi Benayoun - Reports

According to several reports from Russia, ambitious Russian Premier League outfit Dynamo Moscow have agreed personal terms with versatile Liverpool midfielder Yossi Benayoun.

Liverpool are being plagued by financial trouble and are keen to offload some players in order to raise funds for the purchase of a new attacker. Benayoun now appears to be the first player set to leave Anfield.

The Israeli international was previously linked with Champions League hopefuls Olympiacos, but the transfer never materialised after the Greek giants failed to agree terms with Liverpool.

Dinamo have yet to reach an agreement with the Premier League side too, but they appear to be ready to match Liverpool's €8 million asking price.

Dinamo director Konstantin Sarsania confirmed that the Russians have already agreed terms with Benayoun and expect the transfer to be completed by the end of the week.

Why Rafa Could Find It 'Arda' To Resist

The relationship between Fenerbahce and Galatasaray is widely recognised as one of the fiercest rivalries in World football.

A simply audacious attempt by Fenerbahce chairman, Aziz Yildirim, to lure Galatasaray golden boy, Arda Turan, fuelled months of debate among pundits and fans.

Having already signed Emre Belozoglu, previously seen as a product of the Galatasaray youth system, it may be that this was simply an attempt by Yildirim to rub salt in to an already open wound at the Ali Sami Yen. Galatasaray responded by giving Arda the captains arm band and, under the guidance of Frank Rijkaard, he has flourished once again in the Red and Yellow of 'CimBom'.

Arda is widely regarded as the hottest product of the Galatasaray youth system for the past decade. Technically excellent with both feet, strong in possession and the ability to play on either flank, or as a second striker, has helped his rapid progression at both club and international level.

Turan was one of the stars of Euro 2008. His last gasp-winner against Switzerland sent the hosts crashing out and was followed by a goal against Croatia to help Turkey into the knock-out stages.

Liverpool fans will undoubtedly have been scouring the internet for videos of their latest transfer target and few will have been disappointed in watching a player whose mazy runs and numerous assists have put him on Europe's radar once again.

With reported interest from Manchester City, claims that he wishes to play for a club who play in red will have been music to Liverpool fans ears, and with Liverpool desperately in need of some added flair, he could be an ideal signing.

Should he continue to produce the quality that has provided 15 assists and two goals this season, it would be 'Ard' to see him resisting the calls of Europe for much longer.

Rafa Benitez Agent Has Had No Juventus Contact

Rafa Benitez’s agent has dismissed rumours linking the Reds boss with Juventus.

Speculation surfaced this week that the Italian club are set to make Benitez an offer to replace current Juve boss Ciro Ferrara.

However, the Spaniard’s agent, Manuel Garcia Quilon, says he has had no contact with the Serie A club and that Benitez is focused on Liverpool.

“I’ve had no contact with Juventus or with any other Italian club regarding an interest on Rafa Benitez,” said Qulion.

“There have been rumours linking Rafa to Juve just as there have been reports linking (Guus) Hiddink to Juve. But they are all media speculation and there is no truth in it.

“Rafa has a four-year contract with Liverpool. He feels he has the strength to continue with the team and he is fully focused on guiding them up the table.”

Liverpool Manager Rafael Benitez Left Frustrated After Draw At Wolverhampton Wanderers

ael Benitez admitted his Liverpool side missed an opportunity to close the gap on the top four after a frustrating goalless draw against Wolves.

The Reds failed to break down a stubborn Wolves defence at Molineux, leaving them three points behind Tottenham Hotspur in fourth place.

Benitez felt it was a case of two points dropped against the Midlands club.

"If you analyse our position in the table, then maybe [it was two points dropped]," he told the club's official website. "If you analyse the game then it was fair enough.

"In the first half we were in control, we didn't create clear chances and the final pass in the final third was the difference.

"In the second half they were pushing harder and we had to defend, but we still had some good counterattacks. Again the final pass was the difference. If you analyse the game, then the result is fair."

On a frustrating night at Molineux, the Liverpool boss was keen to look for positives and was encouraged by the return of skipper Steven Gerrard and new signing Maxi Rodriguez playing his first full game for the club.

"We know that Steve is a key player for us and clearly he has to work on his match fitness because you can see the difference when he is fully fit," Benitez said.

"Maxi was good in possession. He played the 90 minutes and could see the difference between the Spanish league and this one."

Liverpool Deflate Like A Balloon When Missing Gerrard And Torres

Steven Gerrard was the Footballer of the Year last season, not because he was particularly outstanding but because Liverpool were generally impressive and over the course of his career their captain had been generally excellent.

In a season without an obvious, stand-out candidate, in other words, the award went to someone who deserved to win something. It would have been somewhat anomalous, it was felt, for one of the best English players of his generation to be overlooked when the opportunity presented itself to acknowledge his overall contribution.

All of which goes to show that football writers (who vote for the Footballer of the Year) at least have foresight. Gerrard, and indeed Liverpool, have disappeared from the reckoning this season in a manner quite unimaginable when they finished second last time after losing only two games and inflicting two significant defeats on Manchester United. It may be some time before Gerrard is back to bestriding the game like a colossus, to judge from his anaemic display on returning from injury at Wolves, and if he does ever return to the heights of old it may be under a new manager and without Liverpool's other bona fide superstar, Fernando Torres.

That may be an unduly pessimistic view. Gerrard is entitled to come back gingerly after injury and anyone who expected to see him instantly back in the captain fantastic routine at Molineux was probably expecting too much, something that his occasionally superhuman performances have encouraged over the years. Rafa Benítez might not go to Juventus, though it seems idle to pretend that such a semi-honourable way out would not provide the neatest solution for all concerned in what has become a messy in-house argument at Anfield. And Torres, who knows, might even stay on Merseyside, though unless he makes a rapid recovery from his dreadful succession of injuries even he may not make much difference.

This time last year the Gerrard-Torres attacking partnership was being talked up as one of the most lethal in the land. This season it has simply not happened. It was being said last season that Liverpool could have won the title had they only managed to play their two best players in harness more often. Little did people realise that their joint appearances were about to become even more infrequent. Liverpool's decline this season is easily explained. They are a collection of ordinary players (with respect to the consistently above average performances of Pepe Reina and Jamie Carragher) with two world class matchwinners. If the two WCMs play to their full potential the rest of the team comes up to match them. If they do not reach that level, or if they do not play at all, the rest of the team deflates like a balloon with a leak and eventually ends up flat.

Considering Torres is widely regarded to be the most complete centre forward in Europe at the moment, certainly one of the top three, his frustrating absence for much of the season has been a severe loss to English football, as well as to Liverpool. You just watch, though. He'll be full of goals and running in the World Cup with Spain. Whether England will be able to say the same about Gerrard is a cause for concern for Fabio Capello. Even when fit the midfielder has not been at his best this season, and Gerrard is no fresh-faced teenager any more, able to bounce back from injury as soon as he is allowed. Gerrard turns 30 just before the World Cup, and while it is possible to argue his time on the sidelines will allow him to reach South Africa well-rested, the disruption to his season has seen the player's form suffer and possibly his confidence too.

Perspiration Trumps Inspiration For Rafael Benitez's Men

If you could condense 90 minutes of 'action' into one split-second, then tonight's game could be neatly summed up when, in the 90th minute of a pallid scoreless draw, Liverpool's auxiliary right-back Jamie Carragher galloped on to a loose ball 30 yards from the Wolverhampton Wanderers goal, screaming at Steven Gerrard to vacate its path.

Considering Carragher, 603 games into his illustrious career, has troubled the scorers - at the right end of the pitch at least - just four times, the odds of him thrashing a half-volley past an underworked Marcus Hahnemann to clinch three points for the Reds were slim. And, predictably, he didn't. His shot was hit well, but at least ten yards wide of the American's right-hand post.

But such was Liverpool's night. A glance at Rafael Benitez's team selection before kick-off at Molineux suggested that an attacking game might be in the offing. Argentine Maxi Rodriguez was selected for a full Reds debut, whilst skipper Gerrard returned after a fortnight's rest with a hamstring strain. Albert Riera sought to continue his fine form from last week's victory over Tottenham.

Yet, for some reason, Benitez's men were devoid of conviction, bereft of ideas. Hahnemann's only real scare throughout came when Riera's audaciously looped volley threatened to catch him out early in the second half.

Indeed, it was the home side - with lone striker Kevin Doyle and wide-man Matthew Jarvis especially lively - who looked the more likely to open the game up. Mick McCarthy rested six of his line-up from Saturday's FA Cup clash with Sheffield United; he might regret his reluctance to name a partner for Doyle here.

Possession stats showed that Liverpool had 61 per cent of the ball in the opening 20 minutes, but to watch the first half was an exercise in endurance for both sets of supporters. One cross from Carragher, angled neatly into a deserted penalty area, was indicative of the malaise which affected both sides. When the fourth official, Kevin Friend, held up a board announcing two additional minutes before half-time, the groans were audible.

Not that it got much better; Liverpool's bench had an attractive look to it, with £17 million Italian Alberto Aquilani joined by three forwards in David Ngog, Ryan Babel and Dani Pacheco. But only Ngog joined the fray, and his introduction deprived the Reds of arguably their best attacking player in Riera.

It was easy to see why Benitez opted not to make further substitutions, Wolves' three-man central midfield of Karl Henry, Nenad Milijas and Michael Mancienne may have suffered the same lack of conviction as Liverpool's, but it was helping the home side turn over possession regularly. Disrupting the balance of the side could well have made things worse for the Spaniard.

Benitez will, quite rightly, point out that the draw means his side are now unbeaten in five league games, and have conceded just once in that spell - a testament to the form of the previously much-maligned Sotirios Kyrgiakos as much as anything.

But with Tottenham picking up a routine home win over Fulham, and both Manchester City and Aston Villa boasting games in hand, this result must surely register as two points dropped.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Match Report: Wolverhampton 0 - 0 LiverpooL

Liverpool suffered a severe blow to their hopes of securing Champions League football as they were frustrated by Mick McCarthy's side in a Barclays Premier League clash at Molineux.

The Reds actually moved above Manchester City on goal difference into fifth spot with a share of the spoils but have played two games more.

In contrast, it was a precious point for Wolves in their battle to stay in the top flight.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez, whose agent has played down reports linking the Spaniard with a move to Juventus, saw his side dominate the opening 45 minutes in terms of possession.

But, in the absence of the injured Fernando Torres, they lacked a decisive cutting edge despite the return after a hamstring injury of skipper Steven Gerrard who was well policed by Michael Mancienne.

McCarthy opted for a change of formation with record signing Kevin Doyle the only striker in a 4-5-1 formation and they frustrated the Reds throughout the first 45 minutes with veteran defender Jody Craddock outstanding.

But after the break Wolves played with increasing belief and fluency and it was their turn to enjoy large spells of territorial dominance.

Doyle was a constant menace with his pace and power unsettling the Reds rearguard despite often being outnumbered.

Liverpool, who had taken 10 points from the previous four games, were quickly into their stride.

Gerrard's second minute corner was met by the head of Albert Riera at the near post but his effort flashed across the Wolves box.

Dirk Kuyt, bubbling with confidence after his double against Tottenham, tried his luck from 20 yards out but Craddock was able to make an important block.

Reds goalkeeper Jose Reina was booed every time he touched the ball by Wolves fans who remembered his part in the incident when Stephen Ward was sent off at Anfield on Boxing Day.

Liverpool enjoyed the lion's share of possession but Wolves coped comfortably and the best chance of the opening half fell to Doyle after 33 minutes in a Wolves counter-attack.

Jamie Carragher was isolated in the right-back role and unable to prevent Matt Jarvis from getting past him and sending in a low cross to the near post.

Doyle made a run across the Reds defence to attack the ball at the near post but poked his shot just wide.

Jarvis was posing the biggest threat for Wolves and another teasing centre picked out the run of Kevin Foley at the far post but his header was directed straight at Reina.

Christophe Berra got in a great challenge to halt the run of Maxi Rodriguez into the Wolves box at the expense of a corner just before half-time.

Gerrard was a peripheral figure for most of the first half but threatened after the restart when he seized onto a ball in behind from Lucas Leiva only for Berra to be alert to the situation.

Marcus Hahnemann had to be alert when backpedalling to palm away a looping first time effort from the edge of the area by Riera.

Ward then almost played the home team into trouble with a mis-timed back pass but Hahnemann raced 20 yards out of his box to clear from Kuyt.

Doyle was impressing whenever Wolves ventured forward but would have been disappointed not to hit the target after he found some space outside the box.

Wolves were playing with increasing fluency and the belief was starting to grow amongst their young players.

Kuyt curled a 20-yard shot past the post after Gerrard enjoyed some rare freedom and the game was more of an entertaining spectacle.

Benitez made his first substitution after 67 minutes with David Ngog replacing Riera and Kuyt moving into a wider role.

The impressive Doyle drilled a left-foot shot past the post after getting past Martin Skrtel.

Skrtel was booked after 73 minutes for a lunge at Ward.

McCarthy replaced Nenad Milijas with David Jones a minute later.

Liverpool Coach Rafael Benitez Is Juventus' Prime Target

Juventus' search for a new coach continues and the latest developments in Turin have seen Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez shoot to the top of the wish-list, according to reports. claims Ciro Ferrara has reached the bottom line at the club and will be ousted once directors line up an adequate replacement. Juve are planning to piece together a bid to lure the Spaniard to Turin.

However, they face a big task. On Monday Benitez's agent Manuel Garcia Quillon failed to confirm a concrete interest from Juve, but neither did he rule out a move there, responding "never say never" when prompted on the Italian link.

Furthermore, there are financial obstacles to overcome. Benitez earns around €4.5 million per season and he has four years left to run on his current deal at Anfield. It is said the Old Lady are not prepared to offer more than €3.5m.

But, reports in Russia on Monday had claimed Juve had made a €5m per season offer to Guus Hiddink, fuelling speculation that the club are willing to manouevre in order to bring in a top coach.

The reports remain unconfirmed though, despite mounting pressure at Vinovo.

What Does This £300m Sale Mean For Liverpool FC?

The news filtered through this weekend that Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks has sold his baseball team, the Texas Rangers for a price of over £300 million following lengthy negotiations. Hicks was pleased with the deal, stating

“Together we have worked exhaustively since last month to attain this agreement; it’s a complex business deal that positions the franchise positively for the future.”

Obviously we’re all thrilled that Hicks has managed to make a complex business deal but, more importantly, does this mean anything for Liverpool? £300 million is a lot of money and, even though there’s a possibility that Hicks may not possess it until April due to hold-ups in the deal, Liverpool would be more than justified in expecting one of their owners to provide for the club using such a fortune.

The transfer window has brought Liverpool just Maxi Rodriguez on a free transfer when a lot of strengthening is clearly required. £300 million would deal with debts, bring in as many new players as needed and could help re-ignite talk over a new stadium.

But chances are none of that will happen. A similar deal occurred last year when George Gillett sold his ice hockey team for £323 million and how much of that money did Liverpool see? None of it, that’s how much.

You can see why there’s so much criticism of the American owners given how they regard the club; whilst other owners like Roman Abrahamovic, Randy Lerner and Carson Yeung care for their clubs and give them the money they need, Gillett and Hicks are solely looking to make themselves money and are putting the club in danger in doing so.

What’s next? A £40 million sale of Steven Gerrard followed by each owner pocketing £20 million? They’d happily go along with that.

I would be very surprised if Hicks put one penny of the money made from the sale into Liverpool and thus the sooner Liverpool get bought by someone else who actually cares for the club the better. There was a time when football club’s owners actually had an interest in the sport but it’s owners like Gillett, Hicks and Manchester United’s Malcolm Glazer who screw their clubs over, taking all the money and only putting money in if they think it’ll pay dividends for themselves and the protests around Anfield should keep on going, even if it’s just to show Hicks and Gillett how unwelcome they are.

Rafa Benitez To Juventus? You Never Know - Agent

Coach Ciro Ferrara's future is increasingly uncertain after Juventus were defeated 2-1 by Roma on Saturday evening at the Stadio Olimpico in Turin.

Several coaches have been linked with his post and one of the most recent names is Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez. However, the manager's agent, Manuel Garcia Quilon, has admitted that such a move cannot happen until at least June - even if Benitez is committed to the Reds.

"Benitez to Juventus? In football you never know," he explained to

"I don't know what will happen in four to five months. In football everything changes quickly, but the basic principal is that Rafa still has a four-year contract with Liverpool."

The under-fire coach has been linked with an exit from the Premier League outfit, as they, much like Juventus, have not met expectations this season. But is a switch to Turin really a possibility for the former Valencia coach?

"Right now, that hypothesis is not correct, because he is a very important figure [at Anfield]. The idols of the fans are [Steven] Gerrard, [Fernando] Torres, and Benitez."

Rafael Benitez Insists That Steven Gerrard Is Staying At Liverpool

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has insisted that Steven Gerrard will not be leaving Anfield any time soon.

Rumours continue to circulate that the England international is unhappy with life at Anfield after a disappointing season that has seen the Reds stumble out of the Champions League and struggle domestically.

But his manager maintains that there is no reason to doubt Gerrard's commitment to the Anfield cause, and the player's preceived lack of form has been due to injury worries.

"I don't have any doubt at all about Gerrard's commitment - and nobody at this club has," Liverpool's manager said, accoriding to The Daily Mirror.

"Yes, he can maybe play better or he can play worse, but he will always try, that is absolutely guaranteed.

"People have talked about his form, but the consistency of form is something you can only find when you train every week and have training sessions in a row.

"If you are injured and have to start again, and injured and have to start again, then it's difficult for any player to show his best, be it Gerrard, (Fernando) Torres, (Yossi) Benayoun or whoever."

Rooney: I Would Love To See Gerrard In A Manchester United Shirt

Manchester United star Wayne Rooney has admitted he would love to see Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard play for the current Premier League champions at Old Trafford.

The Manchester United talisman claims the Liverpool captain would be a brilliant player under Sir Alex Ferguson, but admits it would be impossible for the Anfield hero to move to Old Trafford because he is “a Liverpool man through and through”.

Wayne Rooney claims Steven Gerrard had trials with Manchester United before he joined Liverpool, and in addition to being a brilliant player, Rooney claims he and his Anfield counterpart are good friends.

When asked which players he would like to team up with at Old Trafford, the Manchester United star told “It’s not for me to say because that’s the manager’s job, to bring the best players to Manchester United.”

“I’ve played with some great players in the past and would have loved to have played with some legends of the game.”

“Steven Gerrard is a very good mate of mine and he had trials at Manchester United as a kid, it would have been great to have had him at United, but that will never happen because he’s a Liverpool man through and through.”

“He’s a top-class player.”

The Manchester United hero, who recently scored four goals against Hull City to take his tally in the Premier League this season to nineteen goals, also suggested he would have loved to play with Real Madrid and France legend Zinedine Zidane.

Rooney added: “I’d have loved to have played with Zinedine Zidane.”

“I’ve played against him and I was just in awe.”

“But playing against him gave me a lot of confidence because it gave me the belief to say ‘I can play with the best, and I’m just going to chill out and let my football do the talking'.”

Benitez Says Liverpool Keeper Reina Crucial To Resurgence

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has praised goalkeeper Pepe Reina and emphasized his importance to the Reds both on and off the pitch.

Reina will be looking to claim his fourth clean sheet in five matches this evening against Wolves to boost Liverpool's bid for Champions League qualification.

Benitez told the Liverpool Echo, “In a top side you have to be a top keeper and have great character. He is always pushing his team-mates and he is a leader on the pitch too.

“Pepe has had some (injury) problems but he has been playing and doing really well. At Stoke we only played him at the last minute but he was nearly man of the match.

“It’s important to have Pepe and it’s important to have Stevie back too. He has desire and he can see his team-mates working hard and you will see him do the same on the pitch.”

Commenting on negotiations over a new contract to keep the Spanish keeper at Liverpool, Benitez said, “We have had a conversation with Pepe’s agent (over a contract) and he knows our idea.

“The conversation will continue and I’m sure it will be easy to finalise and have an agreement. His mentality is very good and it is not just that he is a good keeper."

Ian Rush: Rafa Benitez Needs To Make One More January Signing For Liverpool FC

The transfer window will soon slam shut and it is inevitable that a number of deals will be struck in the next six days.

What part Liverpool play remains to be seen but I would still love to see Rafa Benitez bring in a striker, even if it is only a short-term loan.

If he can’t do that for whatever reason, it will put a big demand on the players already at Anfield and they will have to be prepared to work that extra bit harder to make up for the shortage.

That said, it was pleasing to see David Ngog make an impact as a sub in the win against spurs; he may just ease some pressure.

Sotirios Kyrgiakos Finally Stepping Out Of Sami Hyppia’s Shadow

Zabi Alonso was the biggest departure from Anfield last season but Sami Hyppia’s move to Bayer Leverkusen was also a huge blow.

However, it could be that, at long last, Sotirios Kyrgiakos is ready to fill the void left by the Big Finn.

I’m not for one moment comparing the two, as Sami was rightly thought of as a Liverpool legend.

But Kyrgiakos has shown in his last two performances that he has similar qualities and is right man to fill the role Sami would have occupied this year.

You won’t have many bigger aerial tests as a defender than against Stoke and Peter Crouch but Kyrgiakos passed both with flying colours.

The jury had been out on him but he is starting to get to grips with the Premier League and is well capable of playing his part for the rest of the year.

Steven Gerrard Waxwork To Appear In Madame Tussauds

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has been transferred to an exclusive London club - for just £150,000!

But before Reds fans worry too much, it is only his waxwork which will be moving to the capital at Madame Tussauds museum.

Gerrard will appear in the interactive Sports Zone in his Liverpool kit and boots which he donated.

He said: "It is an absolute thrill to have my own wax figure at Madame Tussauds."

The wax model has been worked on since October last year when sculptors met Gerrard at Liverpool's Melwood training ground.

During the sitting, the team took over 300 precise measurements and a catalogue of reference photographs to work with. The figure is nearly ready at a cost of £150,000.

"We’re delighted to be welcoming Steven Gerrard to the attraction in this World Cup year", commented Liz Edwards, PR Manager.

"He will join his England team-mates David Beckham and Wayne Rooney in our Sports Zone and guests will be able to test their own footballing skills with a "shoot out" challenge over half term".

As well as his fellow footballers, Gerrard will join an all star sporting cast of greats from past and present in Madame Tussauds’ Sports Zone - from Lewis Hamilton to Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammed Ali to Jesse Owens.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Match Preview: Wolverhampton vs. LiverpooL

Wolverhampton Wanderers play host to Liverpool in the Premier League this week, with both sides needing points for very different reasons.

Only goal difference separates Wolves from the relegation zone, as they have failed to pick up a win in any of their last five games in all competitions.

The Black Country club's last outing resulted in a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace, Ronald Zubar's late goal preventing what would have been an embarrassing FA Cup exit.

Mick McCarthy rested much of his first team for that clash, meaning he will expect a fresh and fired-up group of player to take the pitch when the Reds come to town on Tuesday night.

Rafael Benitez's men claimed the spoils when these two teams met on Boxing Day, but the resurgence many expected after their win against Aston Villa in the following fixture hasn't quite come to pass.

Championship strugglers Reading ended Liverpool's FA Cup run at the first hurdle (albeit via replay) - an outcome which, coupled with the draw that followed at Stoke City, brought the doomsayers out in full force.

But as they've done so often this term, the Anfield giants bounced back last week with a rousing 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur to stay in touch with their fellow Champions League chasers.

Now Liverpool must take the next step towards something resembling a run of good form, and that means three points at Molineux - an achievable task, as Wolves have won there just three times this season.


Wolverhampton Wanderers

Jan 23: Wolverhampton 2-2 Crystal Palace (FA Cup)
Jan 16: Wolverhampton 0-2 Wigan Athletic
Jan 3: Tranmere Rovers 0-1 Wolverhampton (FA Cup)
Dec 28: Wolverhampton 0-3 Manchester City
Dec 26: Liverpool 2-0 Wolverhampton


Jan 20: Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur
Jan 16: Stoke City 1-1 Liverpool
Jan 13: Liverpool 1-2 Reading (FA Cup) (aet)
Jan 2: Reading 1-1 Liverpool (FA Cup)
Dec 29: Aston Villa 0-1 Liverpool


Wolverhampton Wanderers

McCarthy made big changes to his starting line-up for the clash with Crystal Palace; some forced, and some purely in anticipation of Liverpool's visit.

Full-back Richard Stearman should return from suspension, while the likes of Marcus Hahnemann, Kevin Doyle, Jody Craddock and Stephen Ward will expect to reclaim their starting spots.

Andrew Keogh, David Edwards, Stefan Maierhofer and Michael Kightly are all carrying injuries.

Last starting XI (vs. Crystal Palace): Hennessey, Foley, Mancienne, Zubar, Berra, Elokobi, Henry, Jones, Surman, Ebanks-Blake, Vokes.


The attacking triumvirate of Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Yossi Benayoun remains out of action, the latter two players having scored in the reverse fixture.

Dirk Kuyt or David Ngog will deputise up top, most likely with Alberto Aquilani in behind, while wing-back Philipp Degen could be pushed forward again.

New boy Maxi Rodriguez and Ryan Babel will be pushing for starts, while Glen Johnson, Martin Kelly and Nabil El Zhar are all sidelined.

Last starting XI (vs. Tottenham Hotspur): Reina, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel, Insua, Mascherano, Lucas, Degen, Aquilani, Riera, Kuyt.


Wolverhampton Wanderers - Kevin Doyle

Some touted the Irishman as a flash-in-the-pan when he stormed onto the scene with Reading, but he is showing this season that he can trouble any Premier League defence. If Wolves are to obtain a result against the Reds, odds are that their leading goalscorer will be responsible.

Liverpool - Alberto Aquilani

'Aquaman' handed his doubters a big, fat slice of humble pie on his last outing, flourishing in the trequartista role as he steered his side to victory against Spurs. He and every Kopite will be eager for an encore showing.